A Magnificent Medieval Fortress – Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle at night. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Conwy Castle in North Wales is a stunning medieval fortress that stands tall overlooking the lovely town of Conwy. Even after 700 years and many disastrous events, it remains in extraordinary condition and is enough to leave even the most cynical of people breathless. Many people have said it is one of the most magnificent castles they have ever seen, and it is easy to see why.

This beautifully preserved fortress is especially famous because of how many walls and other buildings are still standing. In fact, it even contains the most intact and beautiful set of medieval royal apartments ever seen in Wales. It is amazing to see that things such as the high curtain wall and the lofty towers still impressively rise almost exactly the same as they once did 700 years ago.

Considering that it is over 700 years old, it is fair to say that the history is amazing. There are many amazing castles in Britain, and they all have their own wonderful stories paired with an interesting history, however this time, the spotlight is on Conwy Castle in Wales. So, where is Conwy Castle, and what makes it so spectacular?

Conwy Castles history

Conwy Castles history is one of great valour and medieval rebellion, and much like all other castles around Britain, it had had its fair share of disasters, controversy, and destruction. The magnificent medieval fortress, known as Conwy Castle, is enough to take your breath away in only a single glance, and it doesn’t take much more than that to gain an understanding of what once occurred there. Each piece of stone has a plethora of truths hidden in it and all you need to do is be prepared to listen.

Words simply cannot do Conwy Castle in Wales justice and it has well and truly solidified its place in history as one of the greatest fortresses in medieval Europe. As well as that, it is also truly one of the most magnificent of all the Welsh castles. Come on a journey and explore all of the history that occurred inside Conwy Castle.

The early history of Conwy Castle

It all began in the 1280s when Edward I, King of England solemnly marched his way into Wales with his army right beside him to begin the conquest he had been working towards. A particular focus of his was the area near the River Conwy. It is thought that perhaps his focused was aimed here due to the fact that it was the most important place of contact between inland and coastal Wales.

Conwy Castle and car park from Town Walls
Conwy Castle and car park from Town Walls. Source: Wikimedia Commons

To the Welsh princes, the River Conwy was a sacred and very important place and this importance was further showcased by the popular abbey which was situated there. It was then in 1283 that Edward I finally succeeded and completed the job he had set out to fulfil, he defeated the Welsh armies which also meant that the river crossing and the abbey became his. It just made sense to him that because it was such a strategically available and perfect space, he would build a castle there, though he didn’t want to keep it as simple as that.

Edward I was out to make a statement and he worked hard to do just that. He knew the significance these places held for the Welsh princes, so he once again set his mind to the challenge and decided to make it a true English colony. Not only did Edward build the beautiful Conwy Castle, but he also built a town. Soon after, the town was lovingly named Conwy.

When was Conwy Castle Built?

King Edward I of England
King Edward I of England. Source: Pixabay

Conwy Castle was built between 1283 and 1289. Edward I, King of England, who built Conwy Castle, done so during his conquest of Wales as part of a massive campaign. Conwy Castle in Wales was initially constructed as part of a far bigger project to potentially create the beautiful town of Conwy. It ended up costing over £15,000, which was an incredibly large amount of money in those times.

The huge campaign which Edward I, King of England undertook was to complete an end goal of conquering the Welsh. For generations, Wales and England had gained a futile relationship, however, this all finally ceased under Edward I. He essentially conquered Wales and single-handedly brought Britain one step closer to being unified under English rule.

As part of this conquest, he began to erect castles throughout Northern Wales which were specifically designed to provide military protection against any rebellion. They were also a big part in showcasing English authority, and one of them was Conwy Castle. It is widely regarded as one of the finest castles of the century and it is said to be a very important role in Edwards desired vision for Britain.

The construction of Conwy Castle

As the foundations of the old abbey were cleared, Edward already had in mind exactly what he wanted this castle to look like and what he wanted it to be. The man in charge of it all was James of St. George who is said to be one of the greatest architects of that time in medieval England. While he worked hard alongside Edward I to gain an idea of what needed to be done to create the castle, one of Edwards chief engineers, Richard of Chester begun working to prepare the site by digging ditches and overseeing the masonry and stonecutting.

With four years, 15000 British pounds and over 1500 labourers, Conwy Castle in North Wales was finally complete. In 1289 when it was complete, it was a magnificent structure with a massive amount of strength to withhold many disastrous events. James of St. George built a spacious and desirable first-floor chamber for Edward I, King of England’s queen, Eleanor Castile, though after years abroad in 1290, she ,unfortunately, passed away. only seeing Conwy Castle as a construction zone. 

Rebellion, war, and despair

When a Welsh rebellion began in the year 1295, Edward I, King of England found peace and safety inside Conwy Castle when he became trapped inside. The castle was soon besieged on several sides so escaping or fighting back simply wasn’t an option at that time, Edward was relying on the castle to hold up and do what it was built for, standing strong. With a small amount of luck on their side, Edward I and his men were only able to survive because of a seaside gate based on the ocean side of the castle.

The seaside gate made it possible for boats from the sea to enter and provide sustenance to the English King and his loyal men. The seaside gate was certainly a legitimate lifesaver at this time and the castle stood up well and did its job. Ultimately, the castle served its purpose in protecting Edward and his men long enough for Edward to hold out for reinforcements. It took six months for reinforcements to arrive and break up the rebellion.

Funnily enough, this was the only time that Edward I actually stayed inside Conwy Castle and his only creature comfort was a large barrel of wine situated in the cellar. Soon after, the castle hosted Edwards son, Edward II in 1301 when he appeared almost out of the blue to receive homage from the Welsh leaders. While Conwy Castle truly proved itself worthy in wartime, it was afterwards left to fall into despair within the following century.

Negotiating a peaceful surrender

In 1400, Conwy Castle in Wales, unfortunately, fell victim to another rebellion, and this time, it was even more serious than before. Under the leadership of Owain Glyndwr, a revolt arose out of a tumultuous dispute with the Greys of Ruthin Castle, this quickly affected almost all of Wales. Using trickery in the year 1401, agents under Owain’s advice and ruling successfully captured Conwy Castle.

Owain Glyndwr
Owain Glyndwr. Source: Wikimedia Commons

They gained entry inside Conwy Castle and claimed to be workmen, so they weren’t openly spotted or perceived as a threat. They then proceeded to kill the sentries and summon the supporting forces. Though it didn’t end there because once the English caught wind of this deceitful act, they hit back even harder and besieged Conwy. The Welsh held out for a strong three months, though after the long wait for peace, they eventually surrender themselves and negotiated it peacefully.

The 15th Century

During the 14th and 15th centuries, the castle was once again left to rapidly decline once it had been forgotten about and its readiness for disaster became less and less reliable. However, it was greatly increased when the War of Roses came around. The War of Roses was fought by rival factions of Lancastrians and Yorkists between the years of 1455 and 1485, and while Conwy Castle was reinforced, it played a very small role in the actual war.

Another memorable moment for the castle happened between the 1520s and 1530s when Henry VIII conducted significant restoration work. During this time, the castle was used as a prison, a depot, and even a potential residence for visitors.

The English Civil War

After the War of Roses, the castle once again fell into disrepair until Charles I sold it to Edward Conway in 1627 for the small amount of £100. Though soon after, in 1642, the Civil War began between the Charles’ royalist supporters and Parliament. On behalf of the king, John Williams, the Archbishop of York took charge of Conwy Castle right away and made important repairs on the castle all at his own expense for the royalist cause.

Though later on John Williams, Archbishop of York switched sides and in 1646, he helped the Parliamentarians to capture Conwy Castle. During the Civil War, Conwy Castle held a huge role of significance due to the fact that it played home to Royalist forces. Once again, in 1645, a bitter dispute began when Sir John Owen was appointed as governor of the castle which resulted once again in the castle being besieged by the Roundheads for a whole three months.

Present Day

In 1986 after being in ruins for many, many years, Conwy Castle in North Wales became a World Heritage site. UNESCO even deemed it to possess ‘outstanding universal value’. UNESCO also says that “the extensive and detailed contemporary technical, social, and economic documentation of the castles, and the survival of adjacent fortified towns at Caernarfon and Conwy, makes them one of the major references of medieval history”.

Conwy Castle ruins
Conwy Castle ruins. Source: Flickr

It is now a seriously wonderful tourist attraction and people flock from everywhere just to catch a glimpse of this beautiful and rugged ruin. You can buy Conwy Castle tickets to have a look inside the wonderous walls and engulf yourself in the tumultuous history. Another awesome thing that Conwy Castle offers is venue hire for Conwy Castle events situated at the stunning castle itself.

5 Conwy Castle Facts

  • Conwy Castle envelopes a huge, rocky, and coastal ridge of stunning white sand and limestone. It is said that much of the stone from the castle has been taken from the ridge itself likely during the period when the area was first cleared to prepare for the castle.
  • The area of Conwy Castle is split into an inner ward and outer ward which is surrounded by eight large defensive towers and two barbicans. It also features a postern gate that leads down to the river which allows the castle to be resupplied from the sea.
  • Conwy Castle was designed by the incredible master builder James of Saint George.
  • The inner ward of Conwy Castle was originally made to be separated from the outer ward, so a large internal wall, a drawbridge, and a gate protected by a ditch which was cut into the rock were created to separate the two areas.
  • These days, Conwy Castle is one of the best-preserved castles in all of Wales.

You can find our other articles on Welsh castles here.

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